At first glance, the Internet seems like a vast, untamed frontier. That's not a bad comparison. The 'net is a wondrous and hugely useful tool for learning and entertainment, but it can also be a pretty rough place for a kid to dwell if they don't stay within certain boundaries.
Simply forbidding your child to go on the Internet is not an option: The Internet is an extremely important reservoir of knowledge, and is as relevant to our daily lives as books, computers, TVs, radios and phones. Instead, parents should work to instill safe browsing habits in their children as soon as possible. When we prepare our kids for the outside world, we tell them not to accept gifts from strangers, and to look both ways before crossing the street. In the online world, the same common sense rules apply.
1. Never share information with strangers online: This is one of the most important keys to remaining safe on the Internet (and a good bit of advice for adults too), especially in the age of social networking. Parents should warn their children that personal information such as names, addresses, ages, hometowns, birthdates, schools, etc. should never be given out to strangers through email, chat clients, status updates or any other means.
2. Spend computer time together: By spending time together online researching topics, pursuing leisure activities and playing games, parents can gain greater insight into their child's browsing habits and favorite Internet hangouts. These shared moments also promote trust and understanding, improving communications between you and your sprouts.
3. Try kid-friendly Web browser add-ons: Firefox add-ons like KidZui and Glubble can be installed to make Internet activity safe and fun by offering kid-safe Web browsing as well as parental controls and usage or activity reports. These free downloadable add-ons are easy to find, simple to use, and give parents peace of mind while their kids are on the Internet. Switching back to regular browsing is as simple as inputting a password.
4. Establish set times for online usage: For very young children, it's a good idea to establish specific predetermined times during which computer usage is permitted, preferably when parents can keep an eye on what's happening on their desktop. As a general rule, kids and young teens shouldn't be on the computer during the wee hours and/or when the rest of the family is asleep - doubly so on school nights. Most Windows and Mac operating systems allow you to set controlled hours during which certain users are permitted to use the computer. If said user tries to gain access during a forbidden time, he or she will be barred and logged out automatically.
5. Know the games your children play: There are a great deal of free online games and virtual worlds on the Internet, but not all of them are appropriate for kids. Get to know what your child is playing, and familiarize yourself with the game's safety rules (most online virtual words have a "For Parents" section that outlines moderation policies). Some online games even let parents hook up their own accounts to their kids' accounts so that adults can moderate playtime.
6. Talk about safe online spending: Many of the aforementioned free games offer special items and exclusive levels for a small fee (this is primarily how most virtual words fund their projects). Talk to your kids about online spending, and make sure they understand that they need your permission before making purchases. It goes without saying, but don't just hand over your credit card!
7. Use parental controls and friends lists: Most computer operating systems, consoles and Internet browsers offer easy-to-use parental controls that can restrict a child's computer usage, block or limit online connectivity and help keep them away from unsightly content. Check your computer's control panel and your browser or console system's Settings and/or Preferences menus for more details. Buddy or friend lists can also restrict whom your child is allowed to chat and play with, letting you confine online interactions to friends and family members only.
8. Never let kids meet online acquaintances unsupervised: The Internet is remarkable in that it lets us make friends with exciting people from all around the world. Occasionally, the luckier ones amongst us get to hold a real-life meeting with the buddies that we make online. These meetings are a thrill, but they should never happen without a third party at-hand to supervise and make sure everything turns out safely - and that advice extends to adults meeting online friends for the first time, too.
9. Investigate unexpected gifts or attention: Online shopping lets us order cool stuff from around the world. We can even automatically send gifts to friends using websites like Amazon.com. But if your child suddenly starts receiving packages from unfamiliar addresses, and/or if he or she gets gift boxes from online stores without first consulting you about a purchase, it's best to look deeper into the source.
10. Above all else, communicate: Talk to your child about his or her Internet adventures. Discuss the websites he or she likes to visit, ask about the friends he or she makes, and address any questions or concerns he or she may have. After all, when it comes to the online world, and online safety in particular, there's no such thing as a boring or fruitless conversation.
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